The human brain develops the most between conception and age three, but exposure to adversities such as family poverty, depression or substance abuse can result in developmental stagnation, associate professor Cynthia Osborne said.
“All of these affect the developing child because of that stress,” said Osborne, Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center director. “It affects both our immune response system as well as the development of brain structures, so the number of neurons that are developed is lowered.”
The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs’ Child and Family Research Partnership created the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center this fall to guide state leaders on enacting policy change to support families with children younger than three, according to the center’s website. Osborne said policy leaders from across the country agree public policy needs to change in order to improve the development of this population, but they do not know which policies are most effective.
The center will create an interactive website that allows states to track their progress with suggested policies such as the implementation of paid family leave, Osborne said.
“Research suggests that (paid family leave) improved employment and economic security for the family, and it improves childrens’ health in the end, because there is more time for the mom and child to bond and initiate breastfeeding,” Osborne said.
Osborne said the center will analyze the increase in parents who are taking time off after a child’s birth and measure variables such as child health to help track how the state’s policies improved prenatal-to-three development.
“Policymakers throughout the country can look and see if they want to improve a certain child outcome, they can see what research shows about that policy and whether or not it is effective,” family sciences professor Elizabeth Gershoff said.
The center will launch a list of preliminary policies in January and release its website in September 2020, Osborne said.
“We want to translate our research and our kind of knowledge, the fact that we’re at UT, a research one university, and all our resources into actually making a difference,” said Amie Tran, a public affairs and public health graduate student who works is working for the center. “While we don’t want to actually prescribe policy, we do want to say as researchers, this is what evidence says works.”